Senior executives have discovered through hard experience that prospering at their level is a matter of carefully combining work and home so as not to lose themselves, their loved ones, or their foothold on success.
To learn how they reconcile their professional and personal lives, the authors drew on five years’ worth of interviews with almost 4,000 executives worldwide, conducted by students at Harvard Business School, and a survey of 82 executives in an HBS leadership course.
Women emphasize (far more than men do) how important it is for their kids—particularly their daughters—to see them as competent professionals.
One said, “I think that work is such a big part of who I am. I am a whole being.” Many women said that the most difficult aspect of managing work and family is contending with cultural expectations about mothering.
For a third, it’s about having emotional energy at both work and home.
Some intriguing gender differences emerged in our survey data: In defining professional success, women place more value than men do on individual achievement, having passion for their work, receiving respect, and making a difference, but less value on organizational achievement and ongoing learning and development.
Several male executives who admitted to spending inadequate time with their families consider absence an acceptable price for providing their children with opportunities they themselves never had.
One of these men, poor during his childhood, said that his financial success both protects his children and validates his parents’ struggles.
Those who do this most effectively involve their families in work decisions and activities.
They also vigilantly manage their own human capital, endeavoring to give both work and home their due—over a period of years, not weeks or days.
Another even put a positive spin on the breakup of his family: “Looking back, I would have still made a similar decision to focus on work, as I was able to provide for my family and become a leader in my area, and these things were important to me.
Now I focus on my kids’ education…and spend a lot more time with them over weekends.” Even the men who pride themselves on having achieved some degree of balance between work and other realms of their lives measure themselves against a traditional male ideal.
Such narratives and self-concepts serve as motivational goalposts, helping people prioritize activities and make sense of conflicts and inconsistencies.